Action Drugs
Detroit, MI

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Your Family is Our Family

Action Drugs in Detroit, Michigan has been serving the community since 1986. As a community staple, they've proudly taken on the role of improving Detroit's health care by providing fast and personalized service. They strive to make every customer experience a great one. Their slogan is, Your Family is our Family. IPC recently spoke with Neil Tubben, pharmacy owner, about his store, how he got started in independent pharmacy and the challenges he faces.

IPC:

Did you find value in the CARES Act webinar presented by IPC and Independent Rx Consulting?

Neil:

“The webinar was very informative. I saved the slides and I filled out an application online and I think I got everything loaded properly thanks to your instructions from the presentation.”

IPC:

Can you tell me about your history as a pharmacist?

Neil:

“First off, my family has been in pharmacy since 1931. When I got into pharmacy school I didn’t realize that my great uncle had once been one of the biggest pharmacy wholesalers in the state of Michigan. I graduated in 1981 and I couldn’t find a job that I liked right away. I was told that I didn’t have enough experience but I kept wondering ‘how can I get experience if I can’t get hired without experience.’ I was told to advertise myself as a relief pharmacist so I could gain experience that way.

After a few weeks I landed a job filling in for a pharmacist that was having surgery. I ended up getting more and more calls from people looking for help, but since I couldn’t be in more than one place at a time, I ended up outsourcing those jobs to other relief pharmacists. Before long I had five pharmacists who could fill in full time, and a group of around 40 people who could fill in part time at places where they were needed. I ran that program for a few years and then I sold that off and decided to get into my own store.

I started getting calls from pharmacists who were hoping I would purchase their stores when they retired. For awhile I was running 13 stores, but now I am down to just two. It was a lot of fun, but I was running myself ragged. I liked the idea of owning my own store because I like being my own boss, there are a lot of advantages that come along with ownership. There are some disadvantages too, you are always taking work home and thinking about the stores because they are ‘my babies.’

"I am able to spend time with customers to make sure they get the medications they need, and make sure their insurance is doing everything they can to make things affordable."

I’ve gone almost 40 years without having to work for a chain store so that’s a good feeling. I sacrifice having a lot of time off and also I wish I was making more money, but everyone has aspects of their career that they wish they could have, or should have done. It goes along with the territory of owning your own business.”

IPC:

What is the most rewarding aspect of working in the independent pharmacy industry?

Neil:

 “There are customers that really appreciate us and really need us. I am able to spend time with customers to make sure they get the medications they need, and make sure their insurance is doing everything they can to make things affordable. I can assist with billing issues with a little help, and chains don’t have the time to do that. Or if they do have the time, they aren’t willing to spend it.

What I can’t understand is that pharmacies are supposed to be there for the benefit of the customer, but they don’t act like it at every pharmacy. I don’t know how the chains can be passing inspections and proving they are providing the standard of care that their patients need. The pharmacists in the chains are not doing consultations, they are just handing out flyers. There is a standard of care that needs to be met and the chains aren’t providing that. You have to actually talk to the customers in order to understand what they need..”

"The fact that pharmacies are receiving negative reimbursements doesn’t seem to be a problem to the people who are calling the shots."

IPC:

What are some of the challenges your pharmacy has faced?  

Neil:

“The most negative aspect would be the struggle to make money over the last 10 years with the HMOs, DIR fees and the PBMs. The fact that pharmacies are receiving negative reimbursements doesn’t seem to be a problem to the people who are calling the shots. It’s disheartening when we aren’t treated like we’re a partner in providing health care. They don’t think it’s worthwhile to pay us for our time, effort and energy even though they expect us to provide all the clinical services that we provide.  We’re not a valued piece of the healthcare market.

My biggest concern with the HMOs and the PBMs is that the DIR MAC pricing does not allow for us to have our costs covered. One of our HMOs pays us $0.42 to fill an aspirin prescription. That is the total reimbursement, for medicine, bottle, label, time etc. We are losing a lot on that. There is no way we can pay our bills filling prescriptions like that. We are trying to run an honest business, but we are getting cut off at the knees with DIR fees.”

IPC:

Is there a lot of competition in your area?

Neil:

“Fortunately, there’s not much direct competition. There are some chains within a few miles of here, but the neighborhood itself has had a lot of issues with keeping businesses open. There are a lot of buildings that have been destroyed. My store was firebombed in 2003 by an irate competitor. We were out of business for almost seven weeks, then we found an empty storefront nearby which we put a lot of money into and stayed there for a little over a year. We rebuilt a store in our original building (which was in a strip mall) and moved back – three or four months later one of the other tenants was caught selling stolen merchandise and somebody firebombed his store and burned the entire strip mall down. Some pharmacists definitely have to deal with more adversity than others.”

IPC:

Anything else specific that you’d like to mention about your store?

Neil:

“Overall, I’m happy to keep a low profile, make an honest living and provide the services and products that our customers need. I want to be the neighborhood store that the community can know and trust. I hate to see the stores that are only in it for the profit because that’s not what this profession is about.”